Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A trip to Jharkhand: Rohini, a land time forgot

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books With great trepidation I set off for Jharkhand. I kept telling my hosts that it is unsafe to travel there and they in turn offered police protection from the West Bengal border. I politely declined as I felt safer travelling alone than with a police escort. After all a historian is not really a threat to the Maoists. I am glad I went as I had some memorable experiences there. The districts of Dumka and Devghar constitute the heart of the Santal land and there are well preserved markers of the heroes, Sido-Kunnhu, the two tribals who faught in 1856 against the creeping rule of the East India Company. I found the statue of the two in the heart of Dumka.
Jharkhand being on the border between Bengal and Bihar has been exposed to religious influences which have shaped the identity of the place. One can say that the geographical features and cultural attributes contribute to the making of spatial identities and the best example of this is the Baba Baidynath Dham located in Devaghar. This temple probably of the medieval period is a celebrated Dham of Hindu religion and the puranic lore of the place connects the shrine to the legend of Siva and sati. The heart of sati, the consort of Shiva is said to have falled in this place and the shrine commemorates that event. As a tantric shire this place is marked by animal sacrifices and the crowds there is indeed tremendous. I manged to find my way to the Linga with the help of a muscular panda. Here are some pictures of the Baba Baidyanth Dham.
Rohini, a small "princely" state spawned by the zamindari settlemnt in the late eighteenth century has had an interesting history. It was one of the first to introduce the concept of seed bank in the early twentieth century when the sate of Rohini subsidized the grain that was distributed to farmers during a particularly severe famine. This place was also the first major stop in the spiritual journey of Ramakrishna Parahamsa whose Ashram is still located in Devghar. The ruins of the old palaces of Rohini bespeak of an age gone by and here are some of the pictures which evoke a picture of the age that has disappeared forever. The descendant of the Rohini ruling family is a sociologist by training and an extremely gracious person. It was quite an honour to have met him and his two friendsmNandan and Chowdhury, dring my visit to Rohini.
Rohini has earned a footnote for itself in the history of the Mutiny of 1857. Though the residents of Rohini are all convinced that 1857 was a War of Independence, the fact is that the echoes of the Barrarkpore incident had almost an immediate echo in Rohini when three soldiers led by Salamat Ali killed a cavalry officer, Leslie. With some difficulty Nandan and Choudhury and Srinjeevi were able to locate the long forgotten grave of Leslie alongside ther Kolkotta=Mughalsarai Railway line.
1857 and the events around this landmark have fashioned commemorative practices which are kitschy as they are poignant. The place in which Salamat Ali and his two compatriots were hanged has been made into a Shaheed Sthal. a Martyr's Place, which was set up in memory of 1857. The statues of the 3 are found in this park.
Rohini is surrounded by hills and the hill ranges provided space for the early revolutionaries to try out their explosives and also a secluded place for nationalists and revolutionaries alike to seek refuge from the British Secret police. In a forested track located near the outskirts of Rohini is the mid nineteenth century building, the Grant Bunglow.
The trip to Jharkhand, particularly Devaghar and Rohini was a memorable one and I met some very good people there and was struck by the gracious simplicity of the family of the erstwhile rulers of Rohini.

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Aleem Khan said...
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